by Craig Rogers
This month we'll spotlight the work of a familiar RAPper and a familiar store. Tent City is an account Kurt Schenk of WMAX/Rochester looks forward to working with. Read about it here, then check out the spot on The Cassette. Or listen to The Cassette first, then come back here to see how Kurt produced this spot. Hey, whatever works for you.
The Tent City spots have long been recognized for great writing and theater of the mind. Kurt says, "I almost feel honored to get to do their stuff because it has reached a certain level of creativity. I think that has come from developing a partnership, a business relationship" with Tent City. The story behind building that relationship is an amazing one of cooperation and putting the client's needs first...oh yeah, and some solid, creative production. Let's set the scene.
Here's how Kurt's studio at WMAX is equipped: Tascam 8-track tape deck, Tascam 2-track tape deck, DigiCart, Technics dual cassette deck, Yamaha SPX-900 effects box, 2 Technics SLPG-300 CD players, Electro Voice RE-20 microphones, and a Yamaha MR1642 console (24 channel, 4 inputs, 3 aux sends). Kurt is looking forward to getting a digital workstation in the near future, primarily because it will allow him to work faster. He feels the improvement in quality will be more noticeable to the producers than to listeners. While digital will be cleaner, it's the speed and efficiency Kurt is craving.
Kurt uses the DigiCart extensively in his productions. The DigiCart is useful for storing elements until they're needed. It's like having a whole wall of cart machines cued and ready. Using the Digicart, Kurt can trim an element at the head or tail, butt a number of elements together (although there is no cross-fading), and then play them instantly with the push of a button.
The "Bear" character was developed as part of a long-term image campaign. He has since become part of the Tent City logo. Since May, the Bear has been the central character in their radio spots and is also featured in their print ads. The store owner is a former film maker, so he loves a visual commercial. Kurt says the owner wants to translate to radio the images he has in his head, and it was his direction to not mention the store name until the very end of the commercial. Writing with that in mind was a challenge for Kurt since he believes in consistently plugging the client's name in the copy.
Kurt develops the concept sitting in the manager's office with the store manager and (hold your breath) the Sales Manager from a station across town! Kurt and the Sales Manager were once co-workers at WHAM, Rochester. Even though they're now at competing stations, all differences are left outside the store during the call to Tent City. Kurt says, "Both of us have one thing in common. We want to develop a partnership with Tent City and make them succeed." That desire is enough for them to work together to get the best possible spot for the client.
They get the bare bones facts from the manager: "Twenty percent off sale. Drop Eureka and North Face in there and that it's a fall spectacular." From there the ideas start to flow until they've settled on the basic concept and the types of scenes that will be included. Kurt takes the ideas for the various scenes and writes the dialogue. Once the copy is written, everyone involved reviews it--Tent City's manager, owner, and the other station's Sales Manager. Kurt says the store manager will tend to make revisions based on product mention or store information while the owner will tend to offer suggestions for better transitions or production elements within each scene. For this particular spot there were three revisions. Finally, it's off to the production room.
Kurt's children--Kyle, seven, and Kiefer, four--were part of the talent pool. Kyle has spent time in the studio with Dad before and didn't need a lot of coaching. Kiefer, being younger, took a bit more coaching. Their wild tracks, about five minutes worth of material, were recorded onto the DigiCart. (The boys collected their talent fees at McDonald's.) Kurt edited the wild tracks on the DigiCart to leave just the material he wanted.
The mother was played by Georgann John (hold your breath again), the Production Director from across town at WHAM/WVOR! She and Kurt were acquainted from Kurt's days at WHAM and gladly agreed to do the spot. Kurt says there are times when you just can't pull in someone from the office staff to do a voice. A professional is needed to give the read the required emotion. Georgann had the energy to put the mother "over the top" in the action scenes. And get this, she refused payment! Kurt did make it up to her, however. Since the spot ran on other stations, Kurt received a talent fee. He passed it on to Georgann. Man, is Rochester a great market or what?
The transition effect used between each scene was constructed on the 8-track. Kurt used a cut from the Laser Lightning library, processed through an SPX-900 patch. He then growled along with it, recording his voice to separate tracks. He processed his voice through the SPX-900 using function #31, pitched down -2. (This same effect is used on the Bear's dialogue.) This was then mixed to the DigiCart for storage. On the way to the DigiCart, reverb was added to the effect through the SPX-900.
Now, most of the elements are stored in the DigiCart and are ready to be assembled. The production is put together on the 8-track. The kids go to track 1 and Georgann to track 2. When the kids are out of the scene, and it's Mom and the Bear, the Bear went to track 1. To save a step, Kurt recorded his lines directly to the 8-track instead of storing them on the DigiCart. The dialogue is built step by step in order: Kids-Mom-Kids-Mom-Bear-Mom-etc.. Once the voices are complete, Kurt starts building the scene with the sound effects on tracks 5-8.
The transition effect takes tracks 3 and 4. Kitchen ambience and background ambience was done on 5-8. The sound effects (dishes, waves, leaves, forest ambience) are from the Laser Lightning library from TM Century with the exception of the radio tuning. Kurt brought in his own boom box for that. The growl at the tail of the spot is a tiger growl from the sound effects library slowed down using tape speed.
That fills up the eight tracks. Everything has its own track; there was no need to bounce down. When it comes to mixdown, Kurt says, "It's crazy!" He mixed everything on the fly (including pans) as he dubbed it for air (six attempts in case you're wondering). During mixdown, the voice tracks were run through function #35 of the SPX-900 for compression to control the peaks. Mixdown is to a Bernoulli disc (the DigiCart's removable storage medium) which is then walked into the air studio to load into the on-air DigiCart system. And there's a copy loaded onto this month's RAP Cassette as well. Give it a careful listen, or two or three.
Now it's your turn. This column is truly your column. If you find Producer's VU useful and would like to see it continue, send me a tape at the address below. It doesn't have to be exotic, just a spot on which you did some good work and would like to share with the masses. Besides, you can take the article and show the sales staff how much actually goes into those spots they think you should crank out in fifteen minutes! Drop one in the mail today (a spot, not a salesperson). I suggest, for your own reference, that you even make some notes about how you produced it to keep things fresh in your mind. And feel free to drop me a line with the questions that run through your mind as you listen to The Cassette. If you're wondering, so are others. As Kurt said, "Here I am talking about using all my tools, and I think why I stay with Radio And Production is that I do listen to The Cassette every month, and I do pull ideas from it. If people think they're going to come up with all the ideas all by themselves, they're out of their minds."